§ On Really Seeing Art

Note: this is a May, 2015 post from my old Blogspot site ChrisBeachamPaints that I’m reposting in response to an interesting article from Artsy.com


I awoke this morning with a hangover from the morose, depressing experience from last night that I described on Facebook [Aside: That post provoked the most compelling, soul searching discussion I’ve ever been a part of on Facebook. It is so relevant today.] I decided to do something about it. First, I listened to some Bob Marley. Pulled out some of my old art from when I first started painting. Sat on my little second floor downtown apartment deck with coffee and the latest issue of Art in America. Thought about what I might do art wise. (Definitely not that!) So I decided on a visit to the excellent and free NC Museum of Art a short drive from my place.

Most of us have a tendency, I think, to visit museums like they are all you can eat buffets. You know, there is all this food and you’ve got to have some of everything or you’ll feel cheated. At a museum we don’t want to miss something really good — especially if you think you won’t be able to return. So you’re worried that you’ll come home from your trip to London where you visited the Tate and somebody will ask if you saw Monet’s Water Lilies and you’ll have to say “No” and then they’ll spend 10 minutes telling you all about it.

But when you do that everything becomes a blur or maybe, like when Karen and I visited the new Whitney last week, you walk away overwhelmed and drained. (The new Whitney is amazing.) So this time I figured I’d spend more time with fewer pieces. I immediately went to the far northwest corner of the museum. I glanced around and saw Andrew Wyeth’s Winter. It is amazing and has the added advantage of being placed near a bench where I could sit, contemplate and write in my little Moleskine.

It was painted in 1946, tempera on board, right after his father’s death. What makes this piece so special? It could be the boy appearing to flee down Wyeth’s famous hill, his weight and the tragedy dragging him. Or the beautiful and imposing hill itself. The brushwork with the subtle changes in color and texture that creates both a sense of space and claustrophobia. The shadow too, that follows the boy down the hill adding to the force of his sadness. It is an immensely sad and perfect painting, a simple image that tells a story that could fill a book.

Nearby is a Jacob Lawrence called Forward from 1967. It is a great companion to the Wyeth. Here we see Harriet Tubman pushing the escaping slaves forward to freedom, playing the role of the hill in Winter.

She is shoving the man forward, a revolver in hand. He’s enormous, strong, and terrified, hiding his facing with his immense hand. The colors are bold and the shapes blocky without the detail of the Wyeth. To me the man is the compelling figure, the lines of his ribs, the splayed hands themselves viscerally showing both his physical strength and his terror.

This vision of humanity, of fear, of tragedy, of strength, of heroism, of courage, of determination, of fearlessness both breaks my heart and gives me hope.

I felt maybe there was a piece to create a triptych with the Wyeth and the Lawrence so I walked around, glancing here and there.
And then I saw it, a John Singer Sergeant of the Flight from Egypt, circa 1877-1879. It is a sparse piece, dark, and impressionistic.
Here the forward motion is provided by lonely Joseph, staff in hand, his arm around Mary. We see Mary, her face shrouded, a shawl around her head. She holds Jesus, the child’s head merely a shape but lighter and with a halo.

 

The donkey, his head nearly dragging the ground, appears gaunt and deadly tired, stumbling down the path, his massive ears just more weight to carry.

Joseph is held up by his staff, Mary by Joseph, Jesus by Mary, and the donkey by force of will and necessity. Joseph’s face looks obscured but on closer examination quite detailed, his nose, his beard, and the holes of his eyes amazingly evocative. Again, like the Wyeth and the Lawrence, a sad, beautiful, and contemplative composition.

I spent an hour plus with the three pieces. By doing so they became more than canvas and paint and more than beautiful works of art. They told me three stories that reflect the best and worst of humanity. Stories that made me think. Images that made me sad and feel intensely alive.

§ Inauguration Setlist

I felt like the inauguration required a setlist of appropriate songs with lyrics that reflected our angst. Needless to say there is no Ted Nugent.

I wear my heart on my sleeve here. But I want to make it clear that I do not demonize those who disagree with me. I have friends and family who are celebrating tomorrow. I couldn’t disagree more. But I know they are good people and I will shake their hands and hug them the next I see them because we can’t do this alone.

Read on or go directly to the playlist.

1) We start with Randy Newman and some humor with Political Science
“Let’s drop the big one
And see what happens”

2) But there ain’t much humorous going on in Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit
“Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root”

3) The Neville Brothers version of Dylan’s With God on Our Side, what can I say?
“The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell”

4) So we change speed with the Rolling Stones and Sympathy for the Devil:
“What’s puzzlin’ you
Is the nature of my game”

5) Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain requires some explanation. George Clinton asked the guitarist Eddie Hazel to imagine he had been told his mother was dead, but then learned that it was not true. No lyrics except George’s suitably bizarre intro. Eddie goes deep and wails over the 10 minutes. Interpret as you wish.

6) Steve Earle The Revolution Starts Here
“So what you doin’ standin’ around?
Just follow your heart
The revolution starts now”

7) The Drive-By Truckers released my album of the year, What it Means in 2016 but here we are in 2017. Trayvon, Ferguson, when will it stop?
“And it happened last weekend
And it will happen again next week”

8) The Band‘s The Weight is of course a classic and classically relevant.
‘When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin’ side by side
And I said, “Hey, Carmen, come on, would you go downtown”
And she said, “Well, I gotta go but my friend can stick around”‘

9) Billy Bragg & Wilco did a wonderful job interpreting unused
Woody Guthrie lyrics in Christ for President. We really need Woody back.
“…cast the moneychangers
Out of the temple
Put the carpenter in”

10) Bob Marley & the Wailers. No way to leave off Bob Marley.
Redemption Song
“Won’t you help to sing, these songs of freedom
‘Cause all I ever had, redemption songs”

11) I guess Big Star might be an odd choice but The Ballad of El Goodo is a classic.
“It gets so hard at times like now to hold on
Well, I’ll fall if I don’t fight
And at my side is God”

12) An American election and I have two songs by the British socialist Billy Bragg. So be it. Waiting for the Great Leaps Forward still speaks to me.
“Start your own revolution and
cut out the middleman”

13) And two by The Band who are sort of Canadian. It is what it is…Anyway the lyrics to I Shall be Released are by a Nobel Prize winner. And as he writes:
“Any day now I shall be released”

14) Randy Newman raises his hand. He wants another word with us and starts to play A Few Words in Defense of Our Country.
The end of an empire
Is messy at best
And this empire’s ending
Like all the rest
Goodbye

15) So we get to the end and with another Brit. But Nick Lowe’s sentiments are pretty universal. I think we can all get on-board for:
(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding

The Music

But I don’t think I should end on an uplifting note.
Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello don’t think so either.

 

§ The 2nd Ave Line Opens!

We’ve waited and waited for this and I was there on the 2nd to see the 2nd.

Well it’s special: clean, bright, and filled with cool art. Just four stations total but it’s totally worth a visit. Without more comment here are a few photos.

 

 

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